La Escombrera

Underneath tons of refuse and rubble lie the bodies of hundreds of people who were disappeared from the La Comuna 13[1] in Medellín. The members of the military and paramilitary groups responsible for their deaths threw the lifeless bodies as if they were rubbish into the refuse dump.  For years afterwards it was still being filled with rubble, sand and other construction waste, burying the truth of what had happened there.

In 2012, PBI published a video about Operación Orión[2] and the fight of the mothers of the people who had been disappeared and the organizations that accompany them.

Now, three years later, the families and the people who accompany them have achieved the impossible: the state has agreed to start excavating La Arenera a section of the refuse dump known as La Escombrera, that could be the largest urban mass grave in the world (according to the District Attorney’s office). This is how the search began for between 90 and 300 people buried under 24,000 cubic meters of rubble. Later they will also explore two other points in La Escombrera[3].

On the 27th of July PBI was there for a symbolic event to formally mark the beginning of the excavation process. They were accompanying Corporación Jurídica y Libertad, an organization that accompanies the victims association Mothers Walking for the Truth (Madres Caminando por la Verdad).

La escombrera

The issue of enforced disappearance and the peace process

For the victims, the issue of enforced disappearance is of fundamental importance in the peace process.  In July, in a joint report, the Colombian government and the Farc, announced from the negotiations in Havana the creation of a Truth, Reconciliation and Clarification Commission.

Organizations of victims have insisted in the necessity to create a complementary mechanism, a complementary commission to look for disappeared people.  At the end of the 40th period of the negotiations in Havana, the Farc insisted in a press conference, that there is a necessity to make agreements about how to search for disappeared people.[4]

The case of La Escombrera, could be fundamental in setting a precedent. It is a classic example that shows that the tireless struggle of the human rights organizations and victims groups can move mountains in their search for justice.  It could be a good example for many other cases to follow.

PBI is convinced of the necessity to accompany victims’ organizations as well as the organizations that have made proposals at the negotiating table in Havana.  It is these organizations that have and will have in the future a fundamental role in the peace process and the post-conflict period, for the proposals that they put forward, for the important precedents that they create like in the case of La Escombrera, and to monitor the post-agreement process and how to implement what has been agreed in terms of justice, truth, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition.

– Hendrine Rotthier


[1] 13th District, an underprivileged area of Medellin

[2] Military Operation to recapture the 13th District

[3] El Tiempo: The excavation of the ‘biggest urban mass grave in the world’, 27th of July 2015

[4] Semana: The Farc propose a pact to look for the disappeared, 30th of August 2015.

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